Specialisation: Criminal Justice

American Criminal Justice System


It is no secret that minorities in America disproportionably suffer under the criminal justice system (Siegel & Worrall,2018). Mass incarceration of minorities has become the new Jim Crow, with black and brown people being the primary targets. They are disproportionately represented at every stage of the system, from arrest and sentencing to incarceration and death row. These disparities are not new; they have been well-documented for decades (Siegel & Worrall,2018). The root causes of these disparities are complex and multi-faceted, but they can be traced back to the systemic racism embedded in our society for centuries. These disparities have a detrimental impact on minority communities. They foster mistrust and resentment towards the criminal justice system and unfairly punish innocent people caught up in the system (Siegel & Worrall,2018). Therefore, this essay will provide an in-depth analysis of why these disparities exist and their impacts.

Racial and ethnic disparities in the American criminal justice system are well-documented and long-standing. While there are many contributing factors to these disparities, they can broadly be attributed to entrenched racism and discrimination within the criminal justice system and the overrepresentation of minorities in poverty-ridden and under-resourced communities (Kovera, 2019). The first factor, racism, and discrimination within the criminal justice system refer to conscious and unconscious biases that lead to the unequal treatment of minorities at every stage of the criminal justice process (Kovera, 2019). Studies have shown that minority defendants are more likely to be arrested, charged with more serious offenses; even when the evidence against them is weak, subject to the death penalty, and sentenced to longer prison terms than their white counterparts, even when controlling for other factors such as criminal history and the severity of the offense (King et al., 2010). This indicates a clear bias against minorities in the criminal justice system.

Furthermore, in many cases, minority defendants are more likely to be guilty of a crime, even when there is no evidence to support this belief. This can lead to harsher punishments for minority defendants, even when they have committed the same crime as a white defendant (Lehmann & Gomez, 2021). These disparities have a significant impact on the lives of minority Americans. In many cases, they are more likely to be stopped and searched by the police, even when they have done nothing wrong.

The second factor, the overrepresentation of minorities in poverty-ridden and under-resourced communities, reflects the socioeconomic disparities in the United States (Kovera, 2019). Minority groups are more likely to live in poverty than whites, and they are also more likely to reside in neighborhoods lacking resources and opportunities. This socioeconomic disadvantage puts minorities at a greater risk of contact with the criminal justice system, as they are more likely to be exposed to crime and violence and to live in areas with higher rates of police surveillance. Additionally, how police officers are trained to view and interact with minority communities also matters. In many cases, officers are taught to see minority suspects as more dangerous and more likely to be involved in criminal activity than white suspects (Lehmann & Gomez, 2021). This can lead to a higher level of suspicion and more aggressive behavior from officers interacting with minority suspects.

These two factors lead to the stark disparities in the American criminal justice system today. The over-representation of minorities in the criminal justice system reinforces negative stereotypes and creates additional social and economic mobility barriers. Additionally, the experience of incarceration can be particularly damaging for minority groups, who often face discrimination and are at greater risk for violence within prison.

These disparities have wide-ranging implications for both the individuals affected and for society as a whole. Individually, racial and ethnic disparities in the criminal justice system can lead to a loss of faith in fairness. They can create feelings of powerlessness and hopelessness. These emotions can lead to further criminal activity, as individuals may feel that they have nothing to lose by breaking the law (Tonry, 1994). For society as a whole, racial and ethnic disparities in the criminal justice system erode trust in the rule of law and foster a sense of injustice. They also contribute to crime, violence, and the detrimental cycle of poverty and inequality.

There are several ways that these disparities can be addressed. One approach is to increase diversity within the system, including at the law enforcement, judicial, and corrections levels (Mitchell, 2020). A more diverse workforce has been shown to result in better outcomes for all, including minorities. Another way to address racial and ethnic disparities is through implementing policies and procedures designed to reduce or eliminate bias. These policies and procedures can be created at the organizational level, such as within police departments, or they can be mandated at the state or federal level. It is also important to educate those working within the criminal justice system about race and ethnicity issues. This education can help to reduce the unconscious bias that often leads to discriminatory practices.


Overall, the issue of racial and ethnic disparities in the criminal justice system demands attention and action. Steps must be taken to address the biases and discrimination minorities face at every stage of the criminal justice process. In addition, efforts must be made to reduce the overrepresentation of minorities in poverty-ridden and under-resourced communities. These steps will not be easy, but they are necessary to create a fair and just criminal justice system.


King, R. D., Johnson, K. R., & McGeever, K. (2010). Demography of the Legal Profession and Racial Disparities in Sentencing. Law & Society Review44(1), 1–32. https://doi-org.proxy.lib.utc.edu/10.1111/j.1540-5893.2010.00394.x

Kovera, M. B. (2019). Racial Disparities in the Criminal Justice System: Prevalence, Causes, and a Search for Solutions. Journal of Social Issues75(4), 1139–1164. https://doi-org.proxy.lib.utc.edu/10.1111/josi.12355

Lehmann, P. S., & Gomez, A. I. (2021). Split Sentencing in Florida: Race/Ethnicity, Gender, Age, and the Mitigation of Prison Sentence Length. American Journal of Criminal Justice46(2), 345–376. https://doi-org.proxy.lib.utc.edu/10.1007/s12103-020-09550-4

MITCHELL, K. L. (2020). Taking Steps to Address Racial Disparities in Sentencing. Federal Sentencing Reporter33(1/2), 22–26. https://doi-org.proxy.lib.utc.edu/10.1525/fsr.2020.33.1-2.22

Tonry, M. (1994). Racial politics, racial disparities, and the war on crime. Crime & Delinquency40(4), 475. https://doi-org.proxy.lib.utc.edu/10.1177/0011128794040004001

Siegel, L. J., & Worrall, J. L. (2018). Essentials of criminal justice. Cengage Learning.